Bee Lover Now a Hero to Bee Hater

by Bill Nemitz
Portland Press Herald
Wednesday May 12, 1999

Tony Jadczak is my here.

Tony is the guy who did the unthinkable after a truck carrying 20 million beehives or take a few thousand - turned over on I-295 in Falmouth Sunday afternoon.

He went after them.

And he won.

It was, for those of us who blanch at the sight of one bee, an act of supreme courage, Here is a thick cloud of angry honeybees enveloping their rolled-over bee truck on a busy stretch of interstate highway, all but daring the cadre of armed police officers to make a move.

And there was the state's mild mannered beekeeper, dressed in his son's bee suit and armed only with a canister of smoldering pine needles, calmly walking past the front lines and into the frenzy as the TV cameras rolled.

Is this guy awesome or what?

"I expect these things," Tony said modestly Tuesday. "We've had roll overs before, although this was probably the biggest number of bees. Just last week I sent a letter to (Public Safety Commissioner) Malcom Dow saying 'In the event of an accident, this is what we should do....'"

For 17 years, he's traveled the state helping the 500 or so misguided souls who keep bees for fun and the dozen or so who do it for a living. He writes a column for their newsletter, the "Bee-Line." He checks their hives for signs of disease. He mediates disputes between beekeepers who forget to put out enough water and nearby neighbors who don't like being stung in their swimming pools.

And when necessary, he'll even defend bees against libelous attacks from people like me. People who see no redeeming value in a hairy little flying machine with an in-your-face attitude and a lethal injection hanging from its butt. People who score a direct hit with a stream of Raid and, long after the bee has drowned, keep spraying out of pure spite. People who can't forget that day at a summer playground when someone stepped on a nest during a nature hike and suddenly the air was abuzz and kids were screaming and . . . you get the picture.

"Those probably weren't bees," Tony said. "They probably were yellow jackets, which are wasps and can be a lot nastier. Yellow jackets are hunters - carnivores. Honeybees are vegetarians."

Big deal. They still sting, don't they?

Yes, Tony replied, and no.

"Brush one while she's on a flower, and she'll just go to another flower," he said. "She's got nothing to defend. She's not programmed to defend when she's out foraging."

Truck rollovers, on the other hand, tend to tick them off.

Tony, who inherited his love of bees from his grandfather and went on to study them at Rutgers University ("I helped keep them alive so the professors could abuse them"), didn't have his gear with him when the call came in Sunday. So he grabbed his son's bee suit and rushed to the scene, worrying along the way that the driver might be trapped and in danger of being stung to death. (Now there's a pleasant thought.)

Much to Tony's relief, the driver wasn't hurt. But the bees had shut down the interstate. Tony had no choice: With his bare hands - "I gave my gloves to your photographer" - he first hit the swarm with smoke. Then came the 'rain' from a fire department ladder truck. Then, as the bees retreated into their shattered hives, Tony reluctantly called in the killer foam.

"We had to do it," said Tony, who took a few stings to his hands and the back of his neck. "My hat's off to the fire department and the wrecker crews. They really kept their cool. And most importantly, nobody got hurt."

What about the stings?

"Doesn't count," he said.

Easy for him to say. But if you've ever found yourself frozen with fear as a flying fur ball makes its final approach, you'll appreciate what it took to wade into that army of 20 million and, over eight grueling hours, retake the Maine interstate highway system.

It took a hero.
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